The founders of Jannus Landing are coming out of retirement to do it again. Bob Barnes and Bill Pendergast have plans for a downtown entertainment hall as unusual as the concert venue they built in 1984. But before they transform the Garden Cafeteria and Piano Exchange building that housed their old offices, they are playing preservationists.
For the past several months, workers at 232 Second St. N, across from BayWalk, have begun protecting two floor-to-ceiling paintings and 64 smaller drywall panels along the rafters of the hangar-like structure.
The larger paintings, of a banyan tree and a jungle scene, were created by the Works Progress Administration artist George Snow Hill. The smaller ones, of flamingos, pelicans, palm trees and monkeys, were probably painted by his assistant, according to the St. Petersburg Preservation Society.
Barnes and Pendergast recently took the building back from developers Grady Pridgen and Dan Harvey, to whom they sold it for $1.6 million in 2005. The preservation group had fought plans to tear down the storied Spanish Mission-style building and erect a 19-story, mixed-used tower there.
In 2007, the City Council denied an appeal by the preservation group to stop the project, with the caveat that the developers protect the murals. The preservationists were left scratching their heads about what to do with the large paintings, which unlike the small panels, cannot be moved.
Under an agreement with the new owners, the preservation group is taking possession of the 64 smaller panels and bringing in a master painter to restore the murals. The smaller paintings, some of which are badly damaged, will most likely end up in a museum.
"We are very, very happy to have reached an agreement with the owners of the building," said Maureen Stafford, president of the preservation group.
Though not protected by historic status, the building was included in the city's successful petition for a downtown national historic district. In 1936 it entered its most illustrious age as the Garden Cafeteria. Surrounded by Snow Hill's murals, tourists, locals and soldiers were served fine food at affordable prices during the Depression. It is one of the few remaining examples of what historians refer to as St. Petersburg's "cafeteria culture." The most prominent example of that period is the Tramor, at 123 Fourth St. S, which is owned by the St. Petersburg Times.
Barnes and Pendergast say they are prepared to spend lavishly on their project, which will be capable of hosting a concert, wrestling match or wedding. They characterized their vision as Nova 535, the event space on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N, but on a larger scale. Their plans also include a kitchen and a 50-seat bar facing Second Street that would keep its own hours.
Except for the work permits for roof repairs and to remove the smaller murals, nothing has been approved by the city. But building official Rick Dunn said the city would consider applications to put a bar and entertainment hall there.
Seven years ago, John C. Bodziak had similar plans for the building but they were derailed because the city said it was too close to First United Methodist Church. Dunn said that the city's zoning rules have since changed.
Preservation work has already begun. Local contractor Richard Hicks of Creative Homes has gutted the building and is overseeing a complete overhaul. In the fall, Hilda Neily, a master painter from Provincetown, Mass., will arrive to clean and retouch the large murals. The owners hope that next year the murals will serve as a focal point in the new venue.
Said Pendergast: "We are making a big effort to preserve as much as we can."
Reach Luis Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2271.